sun riah
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sun riah

Oklahoma City, OK | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | SELF

Oklahoma City, OK | SELF
Established on Jan, 2014
Solo Folk Experimental

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This band has not uploaded any videos

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"SUN RIAH’S DEBUT FULL-LENGTH BOLDLY GOES WHERE NO OKLAHOMA MUSICIAN HAS GONE BEFORE"

Sun Riah
Firefly Night Light
(Self-Released)
A-

Oklahoma’s flirtatious approach to experimental music isn’t anything new. For whatever reason, the Great Plains have been friendly confines for oddball psych-pop over the last several decades, beginning with the early-’80s noise-punk scene that spawned The Flaming Lips and Chainsaw Kittens and manifesting most recently with Evangelicals and the current litany of emerging young DIY artists.

Despite its abundant (and nationally underrated) experimental output, the region has yet to see an artist like Sun Riah. The brainchild of OKC-based songwriter M. Bailey Stephenson — who also performs in ethereal local collective King Mary — Sun Riah’s freeform, harp-based compositions and emotive vocal style serve as resounding dissent to the conventional musical wisdom that has otherwise defined the region. But to reduce her music to a mix of weird noises and nontraditional instrumentation would be imprudent. What makes Sun Riah — and her tremendously beautiful and affecting debut full-length, Firefly Night Light — so exceptional is the way in which she marries experimental elements with vulnerability, devastation, and resplendently harrowing melody.

On last year’s …, the Musical — one of the most quaintly opulent Oklahoma-based surprises of the last few years — Stephenson displayed a courage and sincerity that few outside of John Moreland have been willing or able to articulate. In this same lyrical vein, Firefly Night Light culls its inspiration from within: “Prayers once begged for future dreams, innocent things / Now prayers are some desperate plea for pardon,” Stephenson sings on the stirringly sparse “Madame Melancholy (Part 2).” Yet the vulnerability exhibited here isn’t of the powerless variety. There are moments — like those in “All Fell” (“And now I stand much taller than I did with you”) and “Forget-Me-Nots” (“Forgive me not but I cannot change”) — when Stephenson seems poised to conquer her inner demons, only to flounder in her search for a means. Her words emit a supreme candor, but exist behind a veil just thick enough to offer ambiguity and intrigue.

As poignant as her lyrics can be, Stephenson’s greatest maturation is in her compositional restraint. At 14 songs and 52 minutes, Firefly Night Light has ample room for her capricious arrangements to breathe, thus affording opportunities for melodies to evolve organically and atmospherics to take hold. Nowhere is this as evident as on the enthralling “Talia N’ D,” where looping vocal effects support a hook that grows steadily but subtly in intensity as the song progresses. “Ice Cream Bones,” meanwhile, features arguably the album’s most accessibly pleasant melody and Stephenson’s most piercing vocal performance, but is supported by ghoulish drones that cloak the song in mystique. Engineered by Chris Harris (an occasional Oxford Karma contributor, full disclosure) at the now-defunct Hook Echo Sound, the entire album sounds incredible. Whereas …, the Musical was charming in its lo-fi sensibilities, Firefly Night Light is far more sonically immersive, and what was initially a welcome complement to Stephenson’s songwriting is now an essential element of it.

As the record draws to a close with the cripplingly winsome “Firefly Night Light, My Heart,” an overwhelming stream of elusive, rarified beauty is suddenly within aural grasp. (“Firefly night light, my heart / Guide me through this dark with your glow / I know I’ll find my way home”). Reminiscent of Joanna Newsom’s “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” (and not just because of the harp), the song puts an emotionally wrenching exclamation point on an already brooding collection of songs. A jarring combination of passion, curiosity, and potential realized, Firefly Night Light is a landmark album for Oklahoma music, marking the arrival of a young and gifted songwriter who, in all likelihood, has yet to catch a glimpse of her ceiling. Hopefully, if the mid-2010s are someday remembered as Oklahoma’s musical reawakening, Firefly will have served as a guiding light.

By: Zach Hale - Oxford Karma


"Sun Riah album is lush, hopeful genre defiance"

When M. Bailey Stephenson moved back to Oklahoma City from Chicago, the musician, singer and songwriter knew she would have a period of adjustment. Stephenson, who performs as Sun Riah, left Oklahoma to pursue an education at DePaul University, but not in music.

“I ended up doing a degree in modern language and literature,” Stephenson said. “But I bought my first harp while in Chicago.”

Stephenson grew up in Stillwater, Guthrie and Mulhall but graduated from Putnam City West. Throughout school, she played piano, wrote songs and performed in musical theater. In Chicago, she met several harpists, and she knew she wanted to play it.

“I love the harp,” Stephenson said. “I love the possibilities and potentials of the instrument. I love that I hug it when I’m playing and that it’s played with the fingertips, that I can feel the vibrations. It seems to be a delicate instrument, but it is strong, powerful and expressive.”
That sort of thoroughness — the descriptors that come from deep reflection — is characteristic of Stephenson’s songwriting, too. She is thoughtful and contemplative in ways that lend themselves to the task of playing an instrument that demands high levels of skill and seriousness.

Her chosen niche — call it genre if you must — is certainly experimental. Bandcamp even categorizes her latest album, Firefly Night Light, as shoegaze, a descriptor that is both understandable and unfair. Her songs do seem to come from a pensive internal conversation, but they are well-crafted, arresting, even heartbreaking when Stephenson adds her plaintive vocals.

“The new album is focused on time and place,” Stephenson said. “It goes back and forth between memories and what is resonating with me now.”

The album also contains meditations on what Stephenson calls divides, the experience of growing up in a rural setting but graduating high school in an urban one. She talks about the divide between Oklahoma and Chicago, too.

“I loved Chicago, but I knew I would have to come home to Oklahoma at some point,” she said. “Some of the songs are about living in Chicago and longing for home and then, after the homecoming, struggling to find home in Oklahoma, to adjust to the belief systems and place.”

Themes of relationships and loss are common in Sun Riah’s music, and Firefly Night Light is no exception. The difference between the new album and her older work, though, is that the second half of the new project builds toward a lighter, more hopeful conclusion. Stephenson said the hopeful conclusion was intentional. She’s happy where she is musically, and she enjoys the process of being a graduate assistant at the University of Oklahoma, where she studies cultural anthropology. The teaching helps her feel grounded and connected.

“I do like where I am now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep growing, shifting, changing,” she said. “I have learned how to make better realities for myself, including an appreciation for the present. I have always been filled with wanderlust, but I am starting to appreciate where I am.”

By: Greg Horton - Oklahoma Gazette


"Tonight: Sun Riah"

Sun Riah, the recording alias of Oklahoma City native Moriah Bailey, presents a more melancholic side of the harp, with her haunting, experimental arrangements and a vocal delivery reminiscent of Joanna Newsom. Incorporating elements of ambient, folk, and shoegaze, and using mesmerizing loops to achieve a reflective, otherworldly sound, her work has developed a reputation for blurring genre boundaries. Firefly Night Light, the artist’s latest self-released album, is a comprehensive look at Sun Riah’s ambitious style of songwriting that ranges from celestial to ominous and unsettling.

Tonight, the singer/songwriter will perform at Buffalo’s Silo City as a part of its Silo Sessions series. Music starts at 7pm with an opening set from local singer/ukulele player Sica Marinaccio. - BuffaBlog


"5 Harpists Who Really Nail Experimental Pop Music"

"The most minimalistic artist on this list, sun riah arms herself with a harp and a ukulele. Even with modest looping and delay effects, Oklahoma native M. Bailey Stephenson manages to create a sound rich with emotion. Sometimes Stephenson sings; other times she uses more of a spoken word tactic. But on last year’s debut LP firefly night light sun riah epitomizes the darker side of this angelic instrument." - Paste Magazine


"Sun Riah Reveals New Album Concept, Discusses the Art of Being Vulnerable"

"I'm fond of imperfection," said M. Bailey Stephenson, creator of experimental act Sun Riah (styled in lower-case letters as "sun riah"). In response to whether or not perfection exists, she said, "I hope not."

Sun Riah is a solo project built on fragility, which is nearly a paradox in itself. With looping and effects pedals, Stephenson composes melancholy soundscapes from atmospheric harp layers while singing deeply personal moments of darkness and loss. It's the kind of music that picks up the pieces from broken circumstances, but it holds and contemplates them rather than gluing them back together. Her work blossoms from imperfection, which is to say it's born in something inherently human.

"Our ability to feel complex emotions," she said, is one of humankind's most unifying traits, and it's one that she'll be exploring in a new light on her forthcoming follow-up album. "I'm inspired in this particular project by loss of control and looking at the relationships between humans and the environment—landscapes and cityscapes, loss and growth and change. I've been inspired recently by transitions, particularly in seeing places that I really love, realizing that they're not gonna be there anymore."

Time and space are crucial elements in music on which such a concept hinges directly. Fortunately, Stephenson has proven herself well-versed in them. Firefly Night Light, her first full-length album as Sun Riah, was one of last year's most exciting and acclaimed underground releases, and her ear for sonic space was key to its success. That record's somber compositions unravelled in a delicate, well-crafted environment, an intangible chamber of the soul rather than a physical place of the world.

On the new album, though, Stephenson is poised to bridge those two spaces more directly. "It's going to be an album about a place," she said. "I'm recording the sounds of that place and writing music to accompany those sounds and the emotions and histories and stories that took place in that space."

Field recordings are a natural progression for Sun Riah, not just because they embody the album concept so well, but also because their unpredicability suits the project's experimentation. For example, during live performances where venues cause audio feedback, she has at times made it an effort to "try to make it a part of the music." The field recordings are not all that different. By sourcing external sounds for musical narrative, she's making music part of the space rather than vice versa.

This level of openmindedness to mistakes and the unexpected comes at a time when slick studio production work is standard. NPR published an article about the importance of imperfection in music, and even though it was written 7 years ago, it still makes the social media rounds from time to time. It essentially argues that composite takes and digital fixes in search of the perfect recording scrubs away that which makes style and chemistry. It erases the life of a human performance.

When M. Bailey Stephenson creates, she tries "to capture a moment, an emotion, or a particular place." Such muses are not perfect, and she understands and welcomes that as a primary inspiration. Rather than simply purge her intense emotions, she spends time with them, listens to them, accepts them, and discovers the beauty in them. She finds transformation in understanding, and few concepts are as powerful as that." - Cellar Door Music Group


Discography

Firefly Night Light (2015)

1.madame melancholy (part 1) 04:022.falling down 00:573.madame melancholy (part 2) 03:244.all fell 04:125.big world (world 4) 01:316.talia n' d 04:387.dangerous pair 02:528.interlude 04:369.swallow my state 02:3710.forget-me-nots 03:4211.ice cream bones 05:2412.patchwork guilt 03:2713.rebirth or decay 04:2114.firefly night light, my heart 05:56

..., The Musical (2014)


1.constant (the song on the porch) 03:262.sad smile 05:163.songbird 05:084.for dorian 04:405.for simps (part 1) 06:206.for simps (part 2) 02:28




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Bio

Sun Riah is an Oklahoma-based experimental harpist, vocalist, and songwriter. Paste Magazine listed her as one of "five harpists who nail experimental pop music," and her debut album, Firefly Night Light, has been hailed “a landmark album for Oklahoma music” by Oxford Karma. Sun Riah explores the potential of the harp as a musical instrument. She runs her harp through effects pedals, loops and layers harp sounds, sings into the soundboard of the harp, and drums on the harp to create a percussive and rhythmic pull. Utilizing these loops and layers, Sun Riah creates complex musical textures and a sound that is rich with emotion. Influenced by a wide range of music, Sun Riah has developed a reputation for blurring genre boundaries, and her live performances have been characterized as otherworldly and intensely vulnerable. Literati Press writes, “Sun Riah is as much an art project as a music project, if indeed there is even a difference." 

Band Members